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Concert Review: Porcupine Tree 09/15/09 At The Moore Theatre, Seattle WA

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After having waited over two years to see Porcupine Tree in concert, the moment finally arrived this past Tuesday as PT opened the tour for their newly released album The Incident right here in Seattle.

For me, the story of the wait is a simple, but also a frustrating one. You see, like most of America, up until very recently I hadn't discovered this amazing band. In fact, I missed their last stop here in Seattle on their tour behind the 2007 album Fear Of A Blank Planet by mere days. By the time I heard that album, Porcupine Tree were long gone. Hence the two-year wait for a return visit, as I meanwhile immersed myself in the band's rather substantial back catalog.

So the moment finally came tonight — and there is both good and bad to report. I'll get to the bad part first.

Unfortunately, I can't post a setlist here because of the songs they played during the second set — and yes for you fans out there who have tickets, they do play two sets — I only knew about three songs. For hardcore fans, this will no doubt be good news, as Porcupine Tree dips rather deeply into the vaults for the songs which comprise the latter part of the show.

For recent fans like me however, this meant hearing pretty much next to none of my personal favorites. There was no "Waiting," no "Dark Matter," and certainly no "The Sky Moves Sideways."

In fact, even when they surprised me with songs off of Fear Of A Blank Planet in the second set — there was no title track , and only half of "Anesthetize," the eighteen minute opus from that album. In honesty though, given that song's length, and the fact that PT had a new double album to cover, I was actually surprised to hear that one at all. — albeit in an abridged version. Truth be told, between the surprise of hearing it at all, and the ferocious way it was played, I've got no complaints whatsoever.

The only other minor bitch here was how my tickets — which were purchased through the fan club — were handled. It was basically an unorganized clusterfuck, which in the end proved completely unnecessary.

The whole point was to get a wristband allowing early access — when the seats ended up being reserved anyway. No complaints about the seats — they were 7th row aisle. Waiting for over an hour after the advertised time we were supposed to get them is another story altogether, though. It was a whole lot of waiting for what proved to be nothing. The good news is I met a lot of very nice people standing in line.

But with that now out of the way, this was a great show.

As expected, Porcupine Tree opened with the fifty five minute title track and centerpiece of their great new album, The Incident. Hearing this thing performed live is truly an amazing experience. For me the highlight was Steven Wilson's incredible guitar solo during the "Time Flies" segment, but the entire band sounded amazing — in particular second guitarist John Wesley (who plays a crucial role in recreating this complex album live) and especially monster drummer Gavin Harrison.

Following the performance of the disc-long opus that is The Incident, PT took a short break and then returned for a second set. For hardcore fans who have seen this band many times, the second set was probably a real treat as it leaned heavily on obscure, rarely played songs like "Russia On Ice," for example.

For me, while I was hoping to hear songs I've only recently discovered like "Waiting" and "Sentimental," what I did hear was so good I quickly ran out of reasons to bitch. In the case of "Sentimental," the band went for the Nil Recurring alt-version of the song (which is called "Normal" on that E.P.), which gave Steven Wilson a rather sweet showcase for his acoustic guitar talents. Plus, I got to hear the gorgeous song "Lazarus" from Deadwing, which was another unexpected, but quite pleasant surprise.

From Fear Of A Blank Planet came a rather out-of-the-blue, and quite frankly rather oddly shortened version of "Anesthetize," as well as "Way Out Of Here." Not what I expected, but both sounded great. The lone song from the second disc of The Incident was "Bonnie The Cat," which to me seemed an odd choice — as I'd have much preferred to hear the beautiful "Black Dahlia" or "Remember Me Lover."

But if it sounds like I'm bitching here, I'm actually not. Not at all. This was an amazing show. In a lot of ways it reminded me of when I used to go to see Pink Floyd shows in the seventies hoping to get the hits, and instead seeing Floyd open the show with their latest opus, and maybe getting a few things I know in the second set. I admired them for that then, much as I admire Porcupine Tree now.

If this tour plays anywhere near you, do not miss it.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Latch

    They didn’t go into the back catalog at all. Other than playing half of Russia On Ice, they didn’t play anything pre-In Absentia.

  • Paul Roy

    Thanks for the review. My turn next Friday. Someone posted the Seattle set-list.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Latch, this is my point exactly — of the stuff they played during the second half, most of it was pretty obscure, even if it wasn’t all that deep. So for a first-timer like me, this was a little disappointing. That said, what I did hear sounded nothing less than amazing. Thanks for the comment.

  • Ron Lloyd

    Nice review, I was at the show myself and saw them last time they were in town, my only complaint is that I got crappy seats, upper balcony right, which meant Gavin was blocked out of view by the speakers… ARRGG! That being said I would do it all over again…

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Again, by digging rather deeply — I meant into the rather obscure in terms of song choices.

  • Terry Weaver

    Well I drove down from Vancouver BC as it seems the tour manager doesn’t recognize the huge fanbase a couple hours north!

    My first exposure to PT was “In Absentia.” I came down to Seattle then to see them in a grotty little hole I forget the name of. I was blown away and been a fan ever since. I would not have missed this show for anything. Thanks to Arthur on Craigslist for the ticket! The first set was a thowback to Genesis or Floyd – playing an entire album as it was meant to be heard. Wilson commented on the band being nervous for the first set and it was apparent. There was a lot of concentration and tension up there. The second set allowed them to kick off their heels (Wilson was barefoot) and roll down familiar territory. In order for this band to touch on all their repertoire, the concert would have been a week long. Hmmmmmmm. I think the set list was well chosen.

    Now off to heal my bleeding eardrums, scorched nipples and burst left testicle. it was REALLLY LOUD!

    Terry

  • Gregg Prince

    Just as a point of reference: As somebody who’s seen them 2 or 3 times each time they’ve been over since the promotional tour for In Absentia before it was released here, the songs in the 2nd set may have seemed obscure to you but most of those they’ve played quite a bit in one form or another. From the perspective of multiple shows the set isn’t really that obscure or that deep. That doesn’t mean it’s not good or even great but there aren’t really a lot of surprises.

  • Qryche316

    Like many I have just discovered this band since Deadwing. Can someone post the set list? Halo? Shallow? Additional cuts from Fear of a Blank Planet? Blackest Eyes? It is sad that this amazing band cannot gain more support here in the U.S. Can’t wait for the Chicago show!

  • Paul

    As a long-time fan and someone who has seen PT live several times this was the most disappointing show. The new work sounded very much like Floyd (similar chord progressions) and not as strong as their previous three albums. The 2nd half to was disappointing. I understand not wanting to just toss off a ‘greatest hits’ show but not playing Trains and Blackest Eyes (both long-time fan favorites live) was disappointing. Cherish the previous shows you have seen.

  • nh
  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I guess the thing that really needs to be emphasized here, is that I wrote this review from the perspective of a relatively new fan (as in the past two years) who was seeing these guys live for the first time.

    So if songs like “Russia On Ice” are old hat to some of you, they remain somewhat obscure to me. On the other hand, songs that I’ve commonly heard on most of the PT concert tapes floating around out there — stuff like “Halo,” “Trains,” “Open Car,” “Waiting” etc, were nowhere to be heard at this show. This was definitely not a “greatest hits” show. So in that respect, it was a minor disappointment.

    That said, what was played was fantastic and I basically loved every minute of it (still recovering a bit from it today, actually).

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    -Glen

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    I’m jealous, Glen. Wish I could figure out a way to see the band, but it’s just not going to happen. I’ll wait for the DVD, like always – I have to assume with a concept album like this there’s going to be a great live DVD in a year or two.

    Just a note, “Normal” is not an alternate version of “Sentimental.” It is its own song, with an intentionally heavy nod to “Sentimental” just like “Sentimental” echoes In Absentia’s “Trains.” They are all thematically tied together. It would be very cool if all three were played together in such a way that they weaved the parts they borrowed from one another together, but that would probably be a logistical nightmare, or maybe just an awful sounding song.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The two songs play like diffrent sides of the same coin to me Tom. Same lyrics for one thing, but I get what you are saying. “Normal” is certainly quite a bit more intricate (although I actually like the darker sounding arrangement on “Sentimental” a bit better).

    Sorry to hear you have to miss PT this go round too Tom — although I’m sure you’re right about a DVD from the tour being more or less inevitable.

    I’m not sure where the idea that you put forth over in the comments on my review of The Incident came from though. I don’t get swansong from that record at all — and I certainly hope that isn’t the case. I liked Insurgentes, but I like The Incident a whole lot more.

    Thanks for the comment as always (nice to see you around these parts again too — maybe you can stay awhile…)

    -Glen

  • http://www.mightyvinyl.com Mikel Orsborn

    I think this is the 6th time I’ve seen PTree in Seattle (twice on Deadwing alone at the Crocodile!) and was easily the best sound of the lot, but in my opinion the weakest set list. After the heights they scaled with “Deadwing” (my favorite) it’s been downhill since, and I actually prefer “Blank Planet” to the new album. Too much instrumental noodling and not enough melody. The show was very much like that as well, with the weak new LP filling the first set, and the second set filled with too much instrumental stuff and not enough actual “songs”. No “Open Car”, no “Trains”, no “Blackest Eyes”, no “Even Less” – this was easily the weakest set list I’ve seen in terms of “songs”. The last tour was moving in this direction from what I recall – heavy on the instrumentals and lighter on the “songs”. Obviously SW and many of the fans are happy with that direction, so farbeit from me to howl at the moon and wish they’d play more of the stuff I love… it’s just disappointing seeing the band you love moving in a direction away from what excited you about them. It’s tough growing old!

  • http://isorski.blogspot.com/ Isorski

    Posted a review of the Porcupine Tree Portland show. I agree The Incident was a lot to take in but I compared it to like going to see a movie you have never seen before. I would have liked to have heard more from the last three albums as well. I saw them on the Deadwing tour and it was fairly mind blowing. Missed them for Fear of, and I still have yet to forgive myself.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I’ve only been a fan since In Absentia(again,I feel that was their strongest effort) and I’m just finally going to see them in Boston on the 27th(?). I’m looking forward to it.

    Anyways, I can agree with Glen that I would be a bit, just a little bit…not much, disappointed that they wouldn’t play some of their hits because I don’t believe PT’s strong suit is the progressive jam band mode(Just my opinion). I say that because of the pop element that they rely heavily on and the lack of pretentious technical twangery. With that being said, I would never go to see these guys and expect them to play a “Greatest Hits” show. So, it’s kinda weird for me. If it is anything like Pink Floyd live, in terms of the musical feel, then I will be as happy as a pig in shit. BUT, honestly, I didn’t get that vibe from the album, so who knows…

    One more thing, it is kind of odd at how unknown they are here in the US. My friend wanted me to go with him because I’m the only one he knows that has listened to these guys. Personally, if they are making a decent living then I hope they stay a musician/music lover’s secret. I just hope Tom is wrong about PT going defunct because Mr. Wilson’s side projects are a little too light, for me, for the most part.

  • Alan in Pennsylvania

    Hey dude, thanks so much for the review. I totally understood the perspective you were writing this from. I’ve been a fan since pre-In Absentia. Saw them first on the In Abentia tour and haven’t stopped going since. Their live performance is a mind blowing experience. I’m cramming now to learn the entire new album. I did see them on a brief tour when then first introduced songs from FoaBP prior to the album being released. Although it was good it was also tough not knowing the songs.

    I look forward to whatever they pull out of the catalog. You mentioned wanting to hear Dark Matter, they have played that several times in the past. You may get your wish someday in the future. The Sky Moves Sideways?? I would love to hear that as well.

    Well “I’m drawing the line, I’m drawing the line… ” here… hehe. Great review. I can’t wait until Sept 6th in Philly! Yeah baby!

  • BP

    One Mans Review
    Last night my fiancee and myself had the great pleasure of watching Porcupine Tree perform there debut concert for the new album The Incident in Seattle. Since returning home I have read with great interest some of the comments made about that show and felt the need to chime in with my own thoughts.
    Arriving at the Moore, I was pleasantly surprised to see a wide range of age groups from elders such as myself to kids that had to go to grade school the next day. That is the draw of this band. Having known about this band for only a couple of years I am a relative newbie compared to some of the people at the show but none the less I feel strongly enough to comment when I read about peoples disappointment that the band didn’t play there favorite song. Come on already. If the band were to play everyone’s favorite songs we would be there for three days(which wouldn’t be bad)but unrealistic. From the opening song of their new album to amazing Anesthetized( which by the if you weren’t screaming your guts out you must have been dead)it’s this mans opinion Porcupine Tree put on one hell of a show and anyone there to witness that performance should feel lucky to have been there.
    Just one old mans opinion

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Isorki, nice review…

    Sounds pretty similar to what we got in Seattle, although apparently they were a little looser (less nervous).

    I would be curious to hear what songs they did in the second set though, and if any of it was different than what we got in Seattle.

    Thanks!

    -Glen

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Not to harp on one small bit, Glen, but just thought I’d fill in a little more after some thinking.

    Normal and Sentimental actually only share some lyrics.

    I think the pair together actually form the flip-side of Trains, which is where Wilson shows an optimism for the future from the perspective he had as young boy. Sentimental seems to be from the view of older kids, maybe young adults, and Normal seems to look back from an older age (I assume him now.) That’s the impression I’ve always gotten, and I know that the subject of trains in general is very close to SW’s heart, one of his favorite childhood memories, which is why they’ve been a recurring element in his music.

  • Steven Brost

    Saw FOBP at the Showbox 2 years ago — horrible venue for this class act
    What I experienced at The Moore 2 nights ago is nothing less than pure muse/gasm…
    This band has putout some of the very best progressive metal known to man…
    My desire now is to see them live in Italy or Greece where it seems some of there more eclectic shows are performed

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Okay, Tom. You win….LOL…

    -Glen

  • http://www.bc2.ca/bc2blog BJC

    I personally loved the show! No disappointments because I learned a long time ago not to expect bands to play “my favorite song” and just enjoy what they play.

    Here’s my review of the concert.

    Cheers!

  • Dkron

    To hook up at the last line of the review:
    it will play anywhere near me, and i won’t miss it!! 12-10-2009 Amsterdam, Holland.
    It’s gonna be a party night!!

  • Mike S

    As to the commenters who want them to play the same songs they’ve been playing in concert for years, give PT a break! They just might be tired of playing Blackest Eyes, Trains, Even Less, Open Car, etc. If they play the same songs every tour, if you’ve seen them once, you don’t need to see them again.

  • helder

    the last album is really god and more you listen to it the better it becomes.or people that loves heavier music they wont be enjoying this much,for people that only loves melody then this album is a must and al the others are crap,but for me that loves every kind of music i have to say that having an album that combisnes pink floyd,dream theatre,nine inch nails and cold play is amazing.the performance for the inciddent without any break was sublime and then i have to say that i agree with the second set was a bit boring.one of the best bands to see live and they are different from any other bands. if you enjoy porcupine tree you should listen to sky architect and the new blackfield album and the new album from steven wilson.magic pie new album is also a must as well.

  • Paul

    It was a long time ago now, but this was and will likely remain the best concert I have or ever will see.

    Even after reviewing setlists from their recent concerts, I talked myself into being ‘okay’ without hearing all my favourites like Anesthesize, The Start of Something Beautiful, Arriving Somewhere (but not here), etc.

    Although I didn’t know Russia on Ice, it’s since became another of my faves on the list.

    In any event — for me, they played their entire greatest hits album start to finish — in fact, if I could have written down a setlist, other than missing Russia on Ice, I felt like they played a personal concert for me in there.

    3 years later and I’m still amazed at that show.

    -Paul